Once upon a time there was a misunderstood little boy named Tim. Ignored by his classmates and teachers, Tim tucked himself in the shadows of every room and watched other children play the games he wanted to play, hoping beyond hope they'd notice his lonely stares. As he doodled pictures of a sad, freakish man with scissor hands, he wondered why he couldn't make any friends. More than anything, he wanted to know why everyone seemed to work so hard to leave him alone.
This was director Tim Burton's childhood. Although today he brings a confident vision and a wildly inventive style to his films, Burton was a lonely kid who learned to use stories and imagery to express his feelings. After being introduced to audiences with crowd pleasers like 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure,' 'Beetlejuice,' and 'Batman' in the late '80s, the director delivered an intensely personal examination of social isolation called 'Edward Scissorhands.'
This modern fairytale focuses on Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest), a struggling saleswoman who decides to peddle her products to a house she's always avoided -- a decrepit old mansion on the outskirts of her comfy, suburban neighborhood. To her surprise, the sole tenant is a soft spoken young man named Edward (Johnny Depp) whose hands are made of long scissor blades. Despite his dangerous appearance, Peg decides to bring the gentle creature home. At first, Edward garners the love of Peg's family and friends -- he forms a friendship with her daughter (Winona Ryder), earns the patience of her husband (Alan Arkin), and entertains her friends with haircuts and hedge sculptures. But before long, the community's curiosity turns to apprehension and Edward slowly becomes the target of their fear and hate.
'Edward Scissorhands' is essentially a retelling of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" with an angst-ridden splash of suburban satire thrown in for flavor. Edward isn't a hero or a villain per se; instead he serves as a catalyst that exposes the true nature of the other characters. By the end of the film, most of the townsfolk play some part in the paranoia, disloyalty, and deception that victimizes an innocent man. At first glance, the story may seem like a cynical attack on human nature, but it's actually a carefully crafted film that poses a single question to its audience -- how do you treat the outcast in your neighborhood?
Burton's commentary certainly isn't subtle, but I've always found myself swept up by the emotion of this tale. Edward may be an exaggerated caricature of pain and rejection, but the director somehow manages to make a man with scissor hands seem entirely familiar. Edward is the shy kid from middle school that sulked at the end of my lunch table. He is the quiet boy that sat at the front of my bus and stared out the window. He is the guy I notice in the breakroom that never talks to anyone. In fact, he's every person who's ever felt they don't "fit in."
Of course, 'Edward Scissorhands' wouldn't be nearly as effective without Depp's nuanced portrayal of the film's titular character. He molds Edward into a sweet man who's been ravaged by tragedy -- a genuine human being who finds himself surround by wolves in an unknown wilderness. I could write at length about his character ticks and the sheer enormity of emotion he expresses with his eyes alone. He even infuses a restrained sadness to the film's funny scenes, making them much more poignant than their slapstick nature would initially imply.
Finally there are the film's supporting performances. Even though each role is intentionally over-the-top, somehow the actors manage to ground their individual caricatures in the real world. Arkin, Wiest, and Ryder are particularly impressive, infusing each of their roles with believeable complexities and inner conflict, ultimately enhancing Depp's own performance and allowing it to resonate throughout the film.
Given its origins from the mind of a boy who felt unloved and unwanted, there's a delicious irony in the fact that 'Edward Scissorhands' is one of the films that made Tim Burton the cult phenomenon he is today. An achingly personal modern classic, 'Edward Scissorhands' is one of Burton's true masterpieces.
I was initially disappointed to see that this Blu-ray version of 'Edward Scissorhands' uses the same master that was utilized for the standard edition DVD in 2000 and the 15th Anniversary Edition DVD released in 2005. However, this 1080p/MPEG-2 transfer does allow the image to shine and the high definition presentation dramatically enhances the film on the whole.
The vibrant palette exhibits bold colors, deep blacks, and nicely saturated fleshtones that hold up no matter what stylized lighting scheme Burton chooses for a particular shot. To my relief, the image has a comfortable contrast that doesn't feel processed -- I didn't catch any artificial enhancements that would subvert the filmic tone of the print. Best of all, fine detail is amazing and takes a sizeable leap forward from the hazy DVD -- one look at any scene with plantlife should serve as a suitable testament to the upgrade. Textures are more clearly defined, background elements are sharp, and foreground text is quite legible. There is a visible veneer of grain, but the Blu-ray transfer eliminates most of the major artifacting and transfer noise that plagued the earlier DVD releases.
I did have some minor issues that were more stylistic than technical -- the darkest areas of the screen are occasionally crushed, visibility is often limited in the shadows, and a handful of exterior scenes seem overexposed. I also noticed some scratches, flecks, and noise that seem to go back to the original print. Still, for the most part, these slight blemishes weren't a big deal.
The one major problem I encountered is a bizarre, chronic shakiness that was also present on the two most recent standard DVD transfers. I'm not talking about camera shake -- I'm talking about a consistent wobble in the picture from beginning to end. The result is similar to being in a theater where a loose reel is causing the picture to noticeably tremble. Why this problem has been overlooked for the third time now is beyond me. Fans with large screens will find themselves staring at the vibrating houses and shifty faces that populate this unstable transfer. For my own part, I had a difficult time concentrating on the merits of the transfer -- although the image looks incredible when paused, it always feels disjointed when it's in motion. This single problem came close to ruining the entire experience for me.
As it stands, this transfer is still an above average effort, but if it wasn't for this distracting issue, I would've ranked this one much higher.
Thankfully, the audio package doesn't suffer from any glaring technical deficiencies. 'Edward Scissorhands' features a deliberately quiet DTS-HD 4.0 Master Lossless Audio track that handles the film's simple sound design with ease. Danny Elfman's score is easily the most kinetic element on the mix, filled with solid bass pulses and clear treble tones. His bouncy compositions flutter throughout the soundscape and aren't plagued by any fundamental problems. Dialogue is crisp, balanced, and clean -- I never had to strain to hear Depp's whispered lines or the lighter ambient elements in the soundscape. Although the soundfield is generally front heavy, the rear channels do get a little of action during the last act of the film.
Considering the fact that this 4.0 mix doesn't have an LFE channel and both rear speakers deliver identical sounds, this mix does elicit a few relatively minor complaints. As you would expect, bass booms lack a heavy punch and the soundfield integrity isn't quite as convincing as it could be. Still, it is an accurate representation of the film's original sound track, and I'm guessing that a 5.1 remix wouldn't have made a significant difference in a reserved track like this anyway. In the end, 'Edward Scissorhands' sounds great for what it is, but this certainly isn't the sort of track that will turn heads.
While this Blu-ray edition retains the three significant special features from the 15th Anniversary Edition DVD, unfortunately it's missing several other supplements, including fifteen minutes of interview clips with cast and crew, concept artwork and three TV spots.
First up is a quiet commentary with director Tim Burton. I have to admit I was surprised to hear such a subdued track from a man who describes the film as one of his "most personal" -- I suppose that may make it more difficult to talk about, but there was far too much silence on this track for my taste. When he does speak, Burton is certainly a likeable fellow, and even though he tends to stick to the technical end of the spectrum, I couldn't help but recognize new parallels between the director and his title character.
Next is an even more reserved commentary with composer Danny Elfman. I appreciate that he tends to wait for lulls in the music to discuss his score, but I really wanted to hear a more detailed explanation of his techniques and style. As it was, I spent most of my time waiting for him to talk, only to be disappointed when he chose to pause again.
Rounding out the package is an all too brief behind-the-scenes promotional featurette (4 minutes), a promo reel of other Blu-ray titles (presented in high definition), and a pair of theatrical trailers.
(Unless otherwise noted, all of the video features listed above are presented in pillar-boxed 480i/p video only.)
I adore 'Edward Scissorhands.' It's easily one of my favorite modern fairytales and in my mind it cemented director Tim Burton as a visionary. Alas, this fan favorite doesn't seal the high definition deal completely. Although this Blu-ray edition features a suitable DTS-HD MA track and a noticeable upgrade in picture quality, it suffers from the same jittery image problems that plagued the DVD. It doesn't help that some of the supplements have disappeared in transit. Depp and Burton junkies should give this one a rent before discarding their old DVDs and buying it on blind faith.